Arkansas high school coaching legend Kevin Kelley reflects on difficult debut season in college football at Presbyterian

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CLINTON, S.C. – In the northwestern part of South Carolina, you’ll find Presbyterian College.  It’s the smallest FCS school in the country with about 1,000 students. 

Presbyterian College is in the heart of Clinton, a town about the size of Stuttgart, Arkansas, though that is where the comparison ends. Stuttgart is a tradition-rich football program, while Presbyterian College only had 38 wins since moving to Division I in 2007.

That’s why Kevin Kelley was hired to be their new head football coach.

The Blue Hose season got off to a great start, with Presbyterian College winning its first two games 84-43 and 68-3. The competition got tougher, though, and a losing streak began.

“It’s truly been a roller coaster. At times you want off that roller coaster for a minute,” Kelly said. “At times you’re ready to dive back on that thing and keep riding and having a good time. The highs have been really high. The lows have been really low.”

For the long-time prep coach, the key to getting players focused is experiencing a victory.

“You want them to have the reward of the win. We had a couple of those, but we haven’t had one lately so then it’s hard to motivate the guys,” he explained. “It’s like, ‘What are we doing all this for if we aren’t going to win,’ so yes, it’s been tough. Physically I feel like I’ve aged 10 years in three months.”

The tough lessons of graduating from the high school ranks to college ball

Pulaski Academy went undefeated in Kevin Kelley’s last season in 2020. In 2019 they had two losses. In 2018 they had two losses. In 2017 they went undefeated and in 2016 they had one loss.

Add that up and that’s five losses in his last five years. In his first seven games at Presbyterian College, he has had five losses.

Kelley says losing has been tough. 

“I’m just ultra-competitive. and anybody that knows me will tell you that,” he said. “And so probably I feel like I take it a little bit harder than most because I do feel the emotions of all the other people than the winning itself and then I just get so mad that I can’t find a way, right now, to win.”

Kelley says he misses high school football and Pulaski Academy, and why wouldn’t he? He spent 24 years there, but don’t think for a second that Kelley is second-guessing his decision to leave for a chance to coach at the college level.

“I will never go back and say I wish I wouldn’t have done this or that. I just refuse to do that,” he explained. “Did I have more fun then? Yes. But I’m a spiritual guy. I believe God lets everything happen for a reason, and I prayed hard about coming here and something good is going to come out of it and a lot of good things have already come out of it. In hindsight would I do it again? Yea, I’d do it again.”

Presbyterian College’s last game is Saturday afternoon against St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

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